By on February 8, 2018

chevy spark 2018 mint green

There are few things sweeter in life than bragging to your friends and family about the good deal you just negotiated on a new car. They certainly won’t care, but the amount of self-satisfaction received from reminding yourself that you are a force to be reckoned with at the dealership is immeasurable.

Of course, the bargain in the driveway can turn into a money pit once you calculate all the costs associated with vehicle ownership. Fuel costs, financing, insurance, and depreciation can all add up — especially if you purchased the wrong model. So what’s a thrift-obsessed shopper to do, calculate the total cost of ownership on every model in every segment over a five-year period to determine which is the best value overall?

Don’t be ridiculous, someone has already done that. 

This week, Kelly Blue Book released the seventh edition of its 5-Year Cost To Own Awards. The list encompasses practically every segment in existence, taking into count all aspects of the cost of ownership: MSRP, depreciation, financing, insurance, state fees, plus the estimated costs of fuel, routine maintenance, and repairs.

Out of all the manufacturers, Hyundai fared the best for the second year running. In addition to providing a highly competitive point of entry into most mainstream segments, it’s also a manufacturer that includes quite a bit of kit as standard on most 2018 models and provides that super-dope warranty. On the luxury side of things, KBB crowned Acura for similar reasons.

As for the individual models, the absolute cheapest to own was the 2018 Chevrolet Spark. Starting at less than $14,000, the Spark it greasy with affordability right off the bat. However, it also boats decent resale for the subcompact segment and stellar fuel economy for a model without electrification. Its five-year cost to own was roughly $600 lower than both the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent, which took second and third in affordability. All three came in just under a $30,000 after five years of ownership.

For compact cars, the 2018 Toyota Corolla iM took top honors as the cheapskate special with a $30,856 five-year cost. While only marginally higher than the winners in the subcompact segment, the Corolla iM still managed to be over a grand cheaper to keep than the Kia Soul (the third-place finisher) and about a hundred bucks less than the Hyundai Elantra. But would you really rather own the Toyota just because it’s a little less overall?

Jumping up in price a bit for the midsize segment, showed the 2018 Hyundai Sonata as the bargain-hunter’s dream. It was followed closely by the Kia Optima and Toyota Camry.

The most affordable full-size sedans included the Chevrolet Impala, Toyota Avalon, and Dodge Charger — all of which incurred a ten grand premium against their 2018 midsize counterparts.

For enthusiasts on a budget, the Honda Civic Si was the top choice. Its $33,484 five-year cost to own put it way out in front of the second and third place finishers: Ford’s Focus ST and Mini’s John Cooper Works hardtop.

Chevrolet’s Camaro managed to be the most affordable sports car money could by at an average of $43,629 over five years. It was followed by Dodge Challenger and, interestingly enough, not the Ford Mustang. Instead, KBB chose the Audi S3 with it’s comparatively colossal five-year fee of $56,836. How in the hell can that be right?

The Mustang did appear in the high-performance category in the Shelby GT350 trim. However, it’s $71,918 five-year cost of ownership put it far behind Dodge’s SRT versions of the Charger and Challenger — which came in at $59,324 and $53,656, respectively.

In entry-level luxury, Acura ILX was only slightly more expensive than a mainstream midsize sedan. Significantly more expensive to own, yet still affordable within the segment were the Buick Regal Sportback and Mercedes-Benz CLA.

Were making an assumption here that luxury shoppers even care about cost of ownership but, if they do, the 2018 Lexus GS. At roughly $60,000 to run over five years, it was the cheapest option. The GS was pursued by the Cadillac XTS and Audi A6. Meanwhile, Porsche’s Panamera was the best-value for high-end luxury — followed by the Lexus LC and Audi A8.

Getting back to reality, the 2018 Toyota Prius C wound up being the cheapest hybrid to run at $33,454 over a five-year span. Right behind it was the Kia Niro and standard Toyota Prius. Slightly more expensive to own were the full-electric vehicles, with the Nissan Leaf being far-and-away the most affordable at $38,258 over half a decade. Chevrolet’s Bolt finished second at a significant premium while the BMW’s i3 took third with an almost ludicrous $55,690 five-year cost of ownership. Tax credit or no, that’s way too much money for an economy focused vehicle.

While somewhat more expensive to own than traditional cars, crossovers and SUVs ran a much tighter race against each other. In the subcompact category, the Honda HR-V took first (averaging $32,874 over five years) with the Mazda CX-3 and Toyota C-HR in semi-hot pursuit.

Interestingly the slightly larger compact SUV/Crossover segment turned out to cost roughly the same to own as their smaller brethren — if not cheaper in some cases. Subaru’s Crosstrek was the most affordable, followed very closely by the Jeep Wrangler (thanks to its ultra-high resale value) and Kia Sportage.

Midsize SUVs were, again, only slightly more expensive to live with over five years than their compact counterparts with Jeep Wrangler Unlimited being the best bargain. The Mitsubishi Outlander and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, which took second and third, were noticeably more expensive however.

Onward and upward we have the full-sized big boys. Large SUVs represented a substantial price increase. While all of the smaller winners ranged between $32,000 and $38,000 over five-years, the 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe came in at a whopping $62,167. It was followed closely by the Ford Expedition and Chevrolet Suburban.

Things were a little more incremental in the luxury SUV segment. For the smallest examples the Buick Encore ($38,607 over five years), Infiniti QX30, and Lexus NX were the best values. A midsize analysis showed the Infiniti QX60 as the most affordable ($38,607 over five years) with the Acura MDX and Lexus RX right behind it. The Infiniti QX80 ended up being the cheapest huge luxury SUV at $78,170 and it kept its distance from both the Lincoln Navigator and Toyota Land Cruiser.

Among trucks, Toyota’s Tacoma ended up being the best value for 2018. Its $37,083 five-year price was about a grand less than both the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Full-sized trucks were even closer with the Ford F-150’s $48,362 average five-year fee being just a few hundred bucks away from the Chevrolet Silverado. The 2018 Toyota Tundra came in a slightly more distant third place.

Last, but never least, we have the minivan segment — which beat the piss out of the full-size SUV category in terms of value. Honda’s Odyssey ended up being the best bargain at $45,279 over five years. It was followed by the Toyota Sienna and Kia Sedona.

[Image: General Motors]

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61 Comments on “Attention, Cheapskates: Here Are the Most Affordable Cars to Own in Every Segment...”

  • avatar

    How hard would it have been to make a simple two column list. First column – type of car and specific name ( maybe even the top three?), second column – cost of ownership over a five-year span. I’m just sayin’ KISS. The list could go below the verbiage.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      A decade ago TTAC enforced strict word count limit which tightened things up. The current staff doesn’t seem to have any such discipline, and it is shows in the kind of posts only a 1970s era language arts teacher would have loved.

    • 0 avatar

      It doesn’t take graphs or pie charts show how expensive something really is to own and sell. Just do the math on you favorite car.

      Edmund’s Lexus GS loses 30% in 20,000 miles.

      “Resale and Depreciation:
      We accumulated 20,940 miles on our 2013 Lexus GS 350.Edmunds’ TMV® Calculator valued the vehicle at $47,431 based on a private-party sale. The market did not seem to support this price, as CarMax offered us $40,000 and the best we could muster from a private party was $41,000. This made for 30-percent depreciation from our paid price of $58,377. We were disappointed.”

  • avatar

    I calculated that my total cost of ownership of 1998 Protege during period of 16.5 years was $48,322 or $2,928 per year. This is considering that I did most repairs and services myself. The only deviations there would be, I took avg gas price of $2.50 and insurance at $700 annual. These numbers fluctuated greatly. Everything else is hard-core data.

    • 0 avatar

      My TCO including gas, registrations, inspections, insurance, repairs, purchase, insurance, and junkyard parts upgrades for my 1999 Avalon over 3 years has been $7940, including some tax. Bought with 179k, currently has 197k. Who said you had to be rich to own a cheap car? Also why does the stupid comment system delete 30% of the letters I am typing as I type them?

      • 0 avatar

        A decade and a half is not going to depreciate much but the repairs will easily exceed the price of thr car purchase…Toyota or other.

        • 0 avatar

          If you get a fairly reliable car, maintain it properly, and don’t drive it 12k yearly, there won’t be many repairs. Normal wear and tear items add up, but it’s not expensive annually. We’re long past the age (1950s) when a car was falling apart after 7 years and 70k. The trick is to address small problems promptly when they crop up.

        • 0 avatar


          “A decade and a half is not going to depreciate much but the repairs will easily exceed the price of thr car purchase…Toyota or other.”

          So Norm you’re saying my 2007 Honda Accord with 194,000 miles will need $22,000 in repairs? I have only spent $1700 on a wheel bearing and an A/C compressor. Could have been $200 if I did the work myself. I am still $20,000 away.

          I agree with others, buy a reliable car and drive 15-20 years without much trouble.

    • 0 avatar

      Sixteen and a half years? You’re a different kind of cheapskate than the one the article cites. The key to your kind of cheapskate-ism is choosing a reliable car that will keep running with routine maintenance over a 10, 15, 20 year period.

      Yes, people keep cars that long – I did. I bought a year old car (’95 Altima) and kept it for twenty years. It’s still on the road, with 160k and no major repairs, but the paint job evaporated and the dings added up. I would have kept it, but a very low mileage 2005 Lesabre dropped into my lap.

      The cheapskates in the article are just keeping cars until they’re paid off, and then go back into debt for a new car. That’s not being a REAL cheapskate.

  • avatar

    The Mustang probably came in behind the Audi S3 because of insurance. There aren’t a lot of YouTube videos of Audi drivers losing control and crashing.

  • avatar

    The new Bentley Continental GT holds the line on pricing. Still under $200,000 for a W12 model. Total cost of ownership? Who cares?

  • avatar
    Felix Hoenikker

    These numbers seem way high to me. Probably because I do a straight line 10 year depreciations since I usually give a car away or donate it after 10 years. The next biggest cost is insurance which generally costs me $500-700 per year per car for full coverage. Given these numbers it’s hard to come up to $4k per year on any car that I own.

    • 0 avatar

      I did my own breakdown of costs for the Spark, and I’ve concluded that KBB is lazily plugging some sort of national average car insurance cost, rather than vehicle specific insurance premiums tailored to suit the vehicle specific demographic.

      The econoboxes would probably cost $3,000-$5,000 less than what KBB is estimating, by my numbers.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree. My calculations on my full size sedan is less than their calculations on their subcompacts.

  • avatar

    The Dodge Grand Caravan is still the value leader in Canada. I had a look at the nearest dealer inventory and a 2017 Grand Caravan “Canada Value Package” (you can’t make this up) sells for 22,106 CAD or 17,550 USD. That’s for a brand new van! At that price it would make it the cheapest van to own over 5 years I am sure.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    KBB’s methodology has a fatal flaw which makes the results nearly worthless: They assume that the price paid is MSRP, then take actual market value predictions into account when estimating depreciation. The should be using actual transaction prices for both the purchase price and the resale value. Models which routinely have large incentives on them have a lower purchase price, lower up front sales tax and lower insurance premiums than do models which sell with little to no incentives. On the other end of the deal, models which have lower real world prices when new due to incentives have correspondingly lower resale values as used cars. KBB’s methodology whacks these vehicles by assuming a higher purchase price than buyers actual paid while still accounting fully for the discount those vehicles have five years down the road.

    Given that huge error, the rest of their “report” is moot. It does, however, drive website clicks.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep. Not only that, but the KBB website even gives suggestions about actual purchase prices, so they have the data available. (Data might still be wrong, but couldn’t be a worse system then using MSRP for their calculations.)

    • 0 avatar

      I also question how “financing” is taken into account. I suspect they assume similar terms across vehicles. In these parts, Hyundai buyers tend to be subprime and get shafted on financing, resulting in a much higher TCO.

      • 0 avatar

        ” Hyundai buyers tend to be subprime and get shafted on financing, resulting in a much higher TCO.”

        I’ve heard the same about Fiatsler buyers nationwide, except for those who buy Chrysler and Jeep products.

        OTOH, a lot of young military men in my area and they seem to be gravitating toward the Nissan Titan, even though the nearest Nissan dealer is ~85 miles away.

        Hyundai is sold by the local Ford/Lincoln dealer but more buyers are still going out of town to buy their Hyundai, judging from dealership names and logos affixed to those Hyundais.

    • 0 avatar

      The only thing here worse than KBB’s triple flawed methodology is the writing / editing by TTAC. Garbled paraphrasing of a press release.

    • 0 avatar

      If you go to KBB website and read how they calculate this……they DO NOT use MSRP.

      It says right on their website, the use Kelly Blue Book fair purchase price.

      Read people, geez.

    • 0 avatar

      How would know the cost to own a Niro? Free maintence?

  • avatar

    I figure it cost me ~$18K to own my BMW M235i for 2yrs all-in. Was worth every single penny, even though in a lot of ways I like the GTI that replaced it better. I got to drive it on the Autobahn, up Mt Vesuvius, and through Switzerland and France, the Alps and the Dolomites. Priceless.

    What state you live in makes a gigantic difference – since that car was in Maine, registration for two years was ~$2500. In Florida it would have been ~$100. About $1K more to insure for two years in FL, but still $1.5K cheaper overall.

    You can’t take it with you. I see no need at all to drive an automotive hairshirt to save a buck. Even when I was relatively poor I just bought used nice cars.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d love to hear your thoughts/comparisons between the GTI and M235i. I bet a good number of TTAC readers would be interested as well.

      • 0 avatar

        Second this. My E90 got a clean bill of health today at the mechanic (63k oil change) but I’m always scheming for the next.

        Speaking of, I sat on an F30 328d M-Sport, that characteristic blue with black interior. I lusted for it. Mechanic said they don’t feel tight like the E90s as miles pile up… but still want one. Whichever engine.

  • avatar

    What, no B&B rage focused at the Buick Encore?

  • avatar

    “There are few things sweeter in life than bragging to your friends and family about the good deal you just negotiated on a new car.”


    Couldn’t care less about getting a deal. I’m after a car, not a bargain.

    Life’s less stressful this way.

  • avatar

    I don’t think anyone who was particularly concerned about total cost of ownership would buy a new car and only keep it five years.

    • 0 avatar

      Good point. Math I did says a good car in the $16000-18000 has a pretty fair cost to own even if you don’t keep it for long.

    • 0 avatar

      If a person leases that new car they generally only keep the car for ~3 years before it hits the used car lot.

      Older buyers, aged 55 and up, if they don’t lease, tend to buy new, keep it for the duration of the factory warranty, then trade if off for another new vehicle.

      Leasing can be especially attractive for people who do not want to be burdened with the cost of maintenance and/or repair.

      Know of an instance some time ago where a Mercedes E-class had not been serviced or had its oil and filter changed for the duration of the lease contract.

      That gave birth to the “free maintenance for x-years” perks now included with many new cars sold or leased. In those cases the buyers pay all the cost of the scheduled maintenance up front in the sales traction price.

      • 0 avatar

        Exactly. The manufacturers and dealers are just protecting their asset, not do you any favors. Toss in a 10k OCI and profit ! BMW has one schedule for M cars, and one for everything else….but the Old School maintenance schedule is a wise idea.

  • avatar

    For complete reliability information, beyond the 5 years mentioned above (as if you are a cheapskate you will own for more than 5 years or buy used) then check out for information on makes and models.

  • avatar
    spreadsheet monkey

    Interesting stuff. As a British observer of the American car market, these numbers are higher than I would expect.

    Most Brits think Americans have it easy, with cheap gas and cheap cars (Mustang and Camaro in particular are great value compared to what we pay). But your insurance costs and state registration taxes can be brutal.

  • avatar

    You don’t buy a new car if you’re a cheapskate. The very nice person who bought my car new lost about $13,000 a year in depreciation alone before trading it in. Now it’s losing less than $3K a year in depreciation.

  • avatar

    Funny how Hyundai does so well despite it’s reputation for having no resale.

    It’s because KBB is using their KBB fair purchase price in their calculations, NOT MSRP.

    That, plus the warranty.

    • 0 avatar

      Some Hyundai has shockingly bad resale.

      • 0 avatar

        And yet they do well in this study of TCO.

        It’s because “resale”, depending on your source, is calculated based on MSRP.

        THIS study corrects for that by using the KBB fair purchase price.

        So all the smarty-pants Honda resale value preachers aren’t so smarty-pants when you consider actual real world purchase prices.

  • avatar

    As shown by the responses, people that truly want to save money on car ownership don’t read lazy written/researched articles, but crunch the numbers themselves. Also, most will keep their vehicle for much longer than measly 5 years. How can anyone claim to be thrifty and flip cars every 5 years?

    • 0 avatar

      Back in my car biz days, 2 or three cars a year was the norm. But that was back in the days when, with a combination of factory discounts and carefully chosen models they became a profit center, not an expense. No sales tax here also factored in. Those days ended almost two decades ago… and our buying habits and trading cycles have changed dramatically.

      Along with that, I value reliability and durability a helluva lot more than I did years ago. Resale?? Not so much- I’ve given away three of the past four vehicles we’ve replaced to family members that needed transportation. Nowadays, by the time we replace one it’s well into the backside of it’s useful life expectancy.

  • avatar

    I feel like the Land Cruiser is missing. The only real expense is gas, with the amazing reliability and resale value.

  • avatar

    If you just want a reliable, RWD midsize sedan, you can’t beat the GS. It’s really a shame that Lexus is killing this model.

  • avatar

    I honestly don’t consider a single new car to be ‘affordable’ even the cheapest. I have a decent govt job, yet, I’ll never spend more than $12-14K on a car, so i’d rather buy used and stick with reliable stuff like Lexus, Toyota, Honda.

  • avatar

    I know this is late to the party, but I take issue with the suggestion that luxury buyers don’t care about cost of ownership/value

    On the contrary, my experience is this group cares the MOST which seems like somewhat of an oxymoron, but rather their reference points are different.

    I for example hang out with a group of exotic owners- Ferrari, Lambo, R8s, etc. and this is the CHEAPEST GROUP OF PEOPLE I EVER MET. A guy blows a shock in his R8 and he’s sending texts saying “I need to find a shadetree mechanic to fix my shock because I’m not going to the dealer” and “I bought a 430 because the 355 and sooner requires engine out service which is too expensive”.

    Now yes this group could go even CHEAPER by buying like a 1988 honda civic, but my point is they really do care and notice- their value proposition is just different. Like paying $100k for a ferrari is worth it, but paying $500 for an oil change is not.

    Ironically I actually did a presentation at a conference on “Why my ferrari is cheaper than your honda civic” where I actually did lay out how owning a ferrari for 5 years was cheaper than a new honda civic for 5 years.

    Cheapskates and highline buyers are not mutually exclusive.

  • avatar

    Could’ve added some information on which hybrid vehicle is a ‘better’ buy especially a SUV or CUV.

    To save money, pick a vehicle you like and plan on keeping it for 10+ years or more but remember to maintain it yearly. The cost of the vehicle will be amortized over the life of the vehicle so the longer you keep it, the better it’ll be.

    Had an old 2005 Nissan Altima that I could’ve kept longer as it was over 10+years but it was starting to get more expensive maintaining it, considering it was a New England car and the salt/salt solution did corrode the underside.
    Now a newer 2014 vehicle to last another 10+ years.

    Anyone know if hybrids can last 10+ years without much repairs? Will the battery need replacing within 10 years time?

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